Adam Smith

The Most Inspirational Part of Andy Grove's Autobiography

February, 2008

...is when he is a refugee in Austria, escaped from Hungary. He badly wants to go to the United States. I can relate; there have been three or four times in my life when I really wanted something, in the way that you dream about it every night and you put infinite care into every part of getting it. Applying for Y Combinator, to start Xobni, was one of those times for me.

For those of you unfamiliar with Andy Grove, he was the third employee at Intel and its President (and later CEO) for over twenty years. He's a prolific thinker and businessperson in the valley.

Andy is 20 years old. He had just interviewed with American students from the International Rescue Committee (IRC). These students are picking refugees to bring to America based on English skills, education, etc. He was to find out the results the next day...

"They had read off a list of names. According to people who heard the list, I wasn't on it.

I felt as if someone had socked me in the stomach, then my heart started beating so hard that I could barely breathe. "Where are the IRC people now?" I asked. Someone said they were conducting another series of interviews at a school some distance away. I took off like a madman. I ran all the way through the cold, dark streets. My heavy shoes hurt my feet as I ran, but I didn't care.

Sweat was pouring down my face by the time I reached the school. There was a familiar long line of people waiting to be interviewed. I didn't wait. As the next person emerged from the interview room, I brushed past the person whose turn it was supposed to be and pushed in to stand in front of the table.

The IRC representatives were a different group of students than the ones who had interviewed me the day before. They stared up at me blankly. I didn't give them time to stay anything. I swiped the sweat off my face with my hands and, still panting, started talking in English as fast as I could.

I explained that I had been interviewed yesterday, that I was not selected, but that I really, really wanted to go to the United States. One of the interviewers asked me why. I told him I had relatives in New York City who would take me in, that I was a chemistry student, that I thought I would become a good chemist, and that I belonged in the United States. The words poured out, not eloquently or coherently, but I talked and talked as if I could overwhelm their objections by the sheer volume of my words. I almost didn't dare to stop talking, but finally I ran out of things to say. I stood there, panting slightly and still sweating profusely.

The students looked at each other and smiled, then one said, "Okay, you can go to the United States."

I was speechless. I couldn't believe my good fortune. I wanted to hug every one of the young men sitting on the other side of the long table."

Comments powered by Disqus